Ukraine live briefing: Power outages hit Kyiv and other cities; Russia returns to grain deal

Streets in near darkness in some areas of Kyiv’s city center on Tuesday. Electricity and heating outages across Ukraine caused by missile and drone strikes to energy infrastructure are causing concern ahead of winter. (Ed Ram/Getty Images)

Rolling emergency power outages meant to relieve strain on infrastructure damaged in Russian attacks cast Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities into darkness Wednesday.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged to do everything in his power to give Ukrainians electricity and heating this winter, following a barrage of attacks on his country’s energy infrastructure that Western officials and analysts say is a deliberate Russian tactic to sap Ukrainians’ will to fight — and survive — as temperatures plummet. Winter in Ukraine brings rain and snow, with temperatures dipping below freezing.

Russia and Turkey announced Wednesday that Moscow is rejoining the Black Sea grain initiative, the U.N.-brokered deal to ensure safe passage of cargo ships to and from Black Sea ports. The Kremlin had said over the weekend that Russia would back out of the deal.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Ukraine began imposing blackouts across several regions including Kyiv on Wednesday, amid energy restrictions meant to reduce the load on the grid following the destruction of energy infrastructure in Russian attacks. Kyiv regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba told Ukrainian media that if Russia were to continue attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, a total power outage could occur in Kyiv and the surrounding region.
  • The North Korean government is covertly funneling artillery shells to aid Russia in its war in Ukraine using countries in the Middle East and North Africa to mask the weapons’ movement, the White House said Wednesday, although it was not yet clear whether those shipments were received, The Washington Post reports. The shipments include “thousands” of shells, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters.
  • Kyiv, the capital, is set to install more than 1,000 heating stations across the city this winter amid the threat of more Russian strikes, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said. The heating points, powered by generators, will provide necessities including heat, water and electricity to residents in the capital, Klitschko said, noting that the city would be prepared should future Russian attacks sever those supplies.
  • The resumption of Russia’s participation in the grain initiative comes after Moscow backed out following an attack on its Black Sea fleet that it blames on Ukraine. Russia said over the weekend that it had halted its participation in the deal for an “indefinite term” as it could not “guarantee the safety of civilian ships.” Kyiv has not taken responsibility for the attack.
  • “Confrontation between the West and the Russian Federation is intensifying,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told military officials from Russia and Belarus in Moscow Wednesday. Shoigu also repeated the unsupported claim that Ukraine is planning to detonate a “dirty bomb,” which Western officials say is untrue.

2. Battleground updates

  • One in five Russian conscripts drafted to fight in Ukraine died before reaching the front lines, the independent Novaya Gazeta Europa reported. Kyiv estimates that some 73,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine, though The Washington Post could not independently verify that number. Russian officials recently claimed that around 6,000 Russian soldiers had died so far in the conflict. U.S. officials have cited heavy Russian losses but estimate about half as many deaths as the Ukrainian figure.
  • Spain is set to send Ukraine additional air defense systems, artillery and ammunition, Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister of Ukraine, said on Twitter on Wednesday.
  • A Russian plane launched missiles over the grain corridor routes, Zelensky said in his nightly address. “Every such Russian launch – and they are almost daily – directly threatens food exports. And it is the partners’ responsibility to work together to reduce the Russian threat,” he said.
  • Moscow may have stationed a KILLJOY long-range ballistic missile in Belarus for the first time in an attempt to send a message to the West and draw Minsk further into the war, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Tuesday. Satellite imagery from mid-October shows what appears to be a large canister encased within a protective earth berm at Belarus’s Machulishchy Airfield, the ministry said.

3. Global impact

  • Britain imposed sanctions on four more Russian oligarchs, adding to an extensive list of individuals punished since the start of the war because of their links to Russia. The four include Alexander Abramov and Alexander Frolov, two top executives at Russian steel company Evraz, who the British government said have “enabled Putin to mobilise Russian industries to support his military effort.”
  • The Kremlin is set to summon the British ambassador to Russia over Moscow’s allegations that Britain was involved in a Ukrainian drone attack in Crimea, the Guardian reports. Britain denied any involvement.
  • Zelensky said he raised the need for an “air shield for Ukraine” on a call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. The pair agreed to hold two meetings in France in December. The first will be on the challenges of winter — from energy to finance, and weapons to protect Ukraine’s skies — while the second will convene French businesses to discuss aid.
  • A Moscow court stripped Arshak Makichyan — an ally of Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg — of his Russian citizenship in apparent retaliation for his climate and antiwar activism. Makichyan, who now lives in Berlin, has been rendered effectively stateless, the Associated Press reported.

4. From our correspondents

Russia’s “dirty bomb” threats challenge the nuclear calculus: While Russia punctuates its mounting losses in Ukraine with threats about nuclear weapons and so-called “dirty bombs,” Western leaders are grappling with whether Russian President Vladimir Putin might be planning a dramatic escalation on the battlefield.

Though U.S. officials analyzing the conflict in Ukraine say it is unlikely Moscow will launch nuclear action, Washington doesn’t have many good options when it comes to preventing Putin’s worst intentions, writes Karoun Demirjian.

Karoun Demirjian, Karen DeYoung and Francesca Ebel contributed to this report.